1910 Peerless Landaulet “Pearl”


1910 Peerless Landaulet, body by Brewster (only one extant) 

In 1960, my father (Dr. William Donze), purchased the 1910 Peerless from his best friend, Henry Austin Clark. The car was titled in my mother’s name and nicknamed “Pearl.” On the trailer ride home to Berea, Ohio from Long Island, New York, dad, Austin and there friend Bob Hannaford decided to see if they could get the car running in the parking lot of the motel they had checked into.

A little fresh gas, clean the spark plugs and points on the buzzer coils, crank the car over a few times with some fresh oil and Viola! The cloud of thick black smoke was alarming to any passersby, but the car fired up! With this encouragement, the restoration started almost immediately upon arrival.

At age four, I was allowed to work on my first car! My mother taught me how to remove old upholstery without damaging it so it could be used as a pattern for the new. I became an expert tack remover very quickly. So did the rest of the family. The 1910 Peerless was the only restoration that every one of the family members helped to work on.

The kids sanded… and sanded… did I mention “sanded?” The wooden body needed to have its paint removed very carefully so as not to damage the wood. My mother hand sewed the new leather fenders. All of us polished brass. There certainly was a lot of brass!

In 1962, the restoration was complete. It won a National Junior First, a National Senior First and was the judges and peoples choice just about everywhere it went. After that, we drove the Peerless everywhere. It is a veteran of several Glidden Tours and many VMCCA Regional tours (We called them the “Michigan Tour” because it was usually held somewhere in Michigan).

Over the years, “Pearl” was the escort of many new brides on their wedding day. In more ways than one, “Pearl” was truly a member of the family. The stories of shenanigans and family fun are legion. Water-balloon fights, “Mystery Runs”, riding in the rain, polishing the brass with all of my brothers and sisters, working until late into the night with my dad on preparing the car for an event tomorrow, sitting on lawn furniture with friends and family in a motel parking lot among the cars and singing around a hibachi until well after dark. I learned how to tour. I learned resourcefulness. I learned to roll with whatever came up.

The thing that made “Pearl” unique was the Brewster body. It was a custom-made landaulet body that differed from the factory one that was offered. When we first purchased the Peerless from Austin, he told us that he had purchased it from James Melton (the singer and car collector). Austin had reason to believe that the car had originally belonged to “Diamond” Jim Brady, the New York mobster. But as I was removing upholstery from the back seat in 1960, I found a paper order form that had been left under the upholstery.

When I showed the find to my father, he said he thought that it was the order for the Brewster Body Company to produce this car for a socialite doctor in New York. Later research that I conducted many years later confirmed that a 1910 Peerless had in fact been registered to a doctor by the same name in New York City. The “Diamond” Jim Brady story was starting to look pretty bogus. But there was still no traceable record from the doctor to Jimmy Melton.

Melton was a frequent entertainer to the criminally advantaged. He performed at private parties for many of the underground elite. As Austin told it, it was not rare for Jimmy to be “compensated” for his services with the contribution of cars to his growing collection of antique autos. How his hosts came into possession of some of these cars is still quite a mystery. So it is still a possibility that “Pearl” once belonged to “Diamond” Jim.

In the twenty-six years that followed, there was always some small project that needed to be accomplished on the Peerless. After about fifteen of those years, the cast iron “cast-in-pair” engine blocks all started to show signs of cracking at the exhaust valve ports. It was time to perform a complete engine rebuild. My younger brother Al took the project along with my dad. The project of getting “Pearl” back on the road was one of more family pressure than my dad’s desire. “Pop” was starting to get a little older and his tastes in “touring comfort” were “evolving”.

In addition to the mechanical rebuild to the engine, Al also stripped and prepared the wheels for repainting and then took them out for the final color application. They were his first set of wooden spoke wheels and they were spectacular!

Al was now the primary driver of the Peerless until he left for College. It was in 1985 that Pop decided to sell the Peerless. My mom called me in Georgia and asked if there was anything I could do. I made an offer and Pop said it was too low. I doubled it and Pop said it was too high and the only way to know its true value was to put it up for auction and see how high it went. He assured me that he would put a reserve on it that matched my higher offer.

Millard Neuman was at the auction that day and saw that the car was not getting a very high bid. He wanted to by the car at the auction and then give it back to my mom. (Now THAT’S a friend!) As soon as Millard started to bid, a man named Herbie, the “Fireworks King” from South Carolina started bidding too. The bids only made it to half of my last offer before Millard gave up his idea and my dad dropped the reserve! The car was gone.

When my mom called to tearfully tell me the bad news, I immediately called Herbie and offered him twice what he had just paid for the car. He declined my offer saying that if Millard wanted the car, it must be worth a whole lot more. It took me two years of badgering until I was able to get a more reasonable price from Herbie and I immediately went to pick it up.

The boys who serviced and cleaned Herbie’s collection were not very familiar with brass age cars. Armor-All really doesn’t help the leather fenders (Nor the brass). I had my work cut out for me. After six months of cosmetic repairs, reupholstering the fenders, re-striping, mechanical adjustments, new tires, brass stripping and polishing and installing the original jump seats for the first time since 1960, I had completed the task of making “Pearl” show-worthy again.

Since “Pearl” already had a National Junior and Senior Award to her credit, the “Preservation Award” was the only award for which it could compete. To do so meant stating your intentions early enough for the club to find three judges who were considered to be experts on the car in question. They would recognize anything that was unoriginal or incorrect. At the Hale Farm National meet in 1991, the Peerless earned its “Preservation Award” from the VMCCA. It is the highest honor that is given out by the club.

In 1992, I sold the Peerless to Jack Tallman of Decatur, Illinois. As he is a very close friend of the family, it doesn’t feel as though she is gone, just that she is staying with other family, out of state.